Saturday, March 25, 2017

Wheels within wheels

10 And as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel. 11 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went, but in whatever direction the front wheel faced, the others followed without turning as they went (Ezk 10:10-11).

Artists and commentators struggle to visualize Ezekiel's description of the wheels. Since I wasn't there, I can't reconstruct what Ezekiel saw. However, I'd like to draw a comparison. One time I was standing near a railroad. I was familiar with the railroad, having see it from both sides. It was a double railroad. Two parallel tracks for two trains. 

The time I was standing there, I saw a train in the foreground, facing me. That train was at a standstill. 

Yet I saw moving wheels. How could the wheels be moving while the train was motionless?

The explanation, of course, is that I was seeing through the undercarriage of the train in the foreground to another train beside it. The train in the foreground obscured the train in the background. This generated the optical illusion that the train facing me was simultaneously mobile and immobile. How would the undercarriage be in motion while the carriage remained motionless? 

Of course, that's impossible, yet I didn't misperceive the situation. The illusion was caused by the ambiguities of perspective. A montage in which the train in the foreground was superimposed on the train in the background. The only part of the train in the background that was visible was the undercarriage. But due to the foreshortened perspective, it looked as if the moving wheels belonged to the motionless train. 

Perhaps Ezekiel's disorienting imagery is analogous to that. 

How Can Christians in Science Respond to Claims that Faith Is Irrational?

The argument from ignorance

Atheists often mock the Christian appeal to mystery or paradox. They think that's intellectually evasive. A cop-out.

Before getting to the main point, I'd note that mystery and paradox are not synonymous. A logical paradox is mysterious, but a mystery isn't necessarily paradoxical. 

On a related note, atheists accuse Christians of resorting to an argument from ignorance or God-of-the gaps. However, in other contexts, atheists appeal to mystery. For instance, some atheists say we may never be able to explain the naturalistic origin of life because we don't have enough physical evidence about primordial conditions to reconstruct the distant past in that regard. In principle, we could explain the origin of life naturalistically if we had enough trace evidence to reconstruct the initial conditions, but that may be lost. 

More dramatically, some atheists say we find quantum mechanics baffling because our simian brains were not evolved to understand that sort of thing. That kind of intelligence didn't confer a survival advantage on the ancient African savannas for our early ancestors. So natural selection didn't develop brains that have the cognitive ability to resolve quantum mechanical paradoxes. In that event, it's something we can't figure out even in principle. Human reason is too limited. It hits a ceiling.

Likewise, there may be problems in math that are humanly insoluble. Once again, our simian brains evolved to solve more practical problems. So we hit a wall. 

Can we know the Bible?

Typically, Scripturalists take the position that the Bible is the only source of knowledge. All other sources of information are relegated to opinion. But there's a basic problem with that: knowledge of the Bible depends on memory, and memory is fallible. So the logic of Scripturalism commits the typical Scripturalist to the position that Christians can't know anything at all. They can't know what they Bible says because their knowledge of infallible Scripture is only as good as their fallible recollection of Scripture. But in that event, their knowledge of Scripture falls short of true knowledge, as conventionally defined by Scripturalism. 

Animals of Eden

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 
19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. 
 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Before I get to the main point, this post is only relevant to Christians who believe there was predation before the Fall. I'd like to reiterate an observation I've made before: the definition of young-earth creationism typically includes three planks: age of the universe about 6-10K years old; Noah's flood was a worldwide event; no animal death (predation, parasitism) before the Fall. However, these tenets are logically independent of each other. You could affirm one, two, or all three. If you affirm just two, there are three different ways you could pair them off. 

The description of the garden raises intriguing questions about how we should visualize the setting. What keeps tame animals inside the garden? What keeps them from leaving the garden? What keeps dangerous animals out of the garden? Likewise, posting guards at the eastern end or edge or side of the garden implies some sort of barrier around the garden. It had one entrance or exit. 

Perhaps the garden was situated in a narrow river valley with sheer escarpments forming a natural barrier. Maybe there was a waterfall downstream. Maybe the river emerged upstream through a rocky opening. Or maybe it was a subterranean river that surfaced in the garden. Maybe there was an interstice on the eastern side, permitting ingress or egress. 

Another possibility: the garden was located on a fluvial island. In that event the river would form a natural barrier on all sides. Perhaps there was a rope bridge connecting the island to the mainland. 

On a related issue, although the garden animals were tame, that doesn't necessarily mean them were harmless. It may only mean they were tame in relation to Adam and Eve. But tame animals like tame lions, bears, and honey badgers can still be ferocious in relation to other animals. In theory, the garden might have predatory animals that guarded the garden from incursion by wild animals that might be dangerous to humans. On that scenario, the garden might be less physically isolated from the surrounding wilderness.  

Friday, March 24, 2017

6 Reasons to Support Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration:

Fifty Agreements Among The Resurrection Accounts

One of the most common objections to the New Testament's resurrection accounts is that there are too many differences among them. There are a lot of ways to respond to that objection. For example, I wrote a series of posts earlier this year that's partly about how the gospels' differences are often similar to what we see in other ancient literature, including other ancient biographies. On some of the principles involved in harmonizing the resurrection accounts, see Steve Hays' posts here and here. And we've offered some potential harmonizations of the resurrection accounts, like here. But what I want to focus on in this post is how much the resurrection accounts have in common.

What I'll be citing is agreement between two or more resurrection accounts in a way that's consistent with the others. Since some of the accounts, like the closing of Mark's gospel and Paul's material on the resurrection at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, are so brief, there's a lot they don't address. If two or more other accounts agree with each other on a point, but that point isn't discussed in Mark or 1 Corinthians 15, the agreement among those other accounts is significant anyway.

There are good reasons to accept material that's only found in one resurrection account. For example, when Matthew (28:9-10) and John (20:14-7) narrate resurrection appearances to one or more of Jesus' female followers before any appearances to his male disciples, that prominence given to female disciples in such a male-dominated society provides us with some good evidence for those accounts. Likewise, the earliness of the material Paul cites referring to an appearance to more than five hundred people (1 Corinthians 15:6) and Paul's knowledge of the ongoing status of those witnesses give us good reason to accept the historicity of that resurrection appearance. There's good evidence for the appearances in Matthew 28:9-10, John 20:14-7, and 1 Corinthians 15:6, even if each appearance is only mentioned in one source. But my focus in this post will be on material found in multiple resurrection accounts.

There are more agreements among the accounts than what I'm going to list. These are just some examples.

Since the resurrection accounts in the gospels start with the tomb of Jesus, I'm starting there as well:

Biology isn't bigotry

"Homophobia" in the church

Conference to be held: “Deposing a Heretical Pope”

Deposing a heretical pope
Deposing a heretical pope
 Is Pope Francis a heretical pope? 

There is certain to be more, not less controversy, over the “Pope Francis” “Apostolic Exhortation” entitled “Amoris Laetitia” in the coming weeks, as a group of Roman Catholic scholars, canon lawyers, and theologians meet to discuss the topic, “How to Depose a Heretical Pope”, March 30 and 31 in Paris.

PARIS, March 17, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) -- Canon lawyers, theologians, and scholars will be meeting in Paris in two weeks to discuss a topic that has never been the focus of a Catholic conference before: How to depose a heretical pope. 
Titled Deposing the Pope: Theological Premises, Canonical Models, Constitutional Challenge, the conference seeks to explore the mechanisms that are built into the Catholic Church for dealing with a pope who openly teaches falsehood and even heresy. 
Speaking at the conference will be University of Paris Professor Laurent Fonbaustier who published a 1200 page book last year on the topic that was titled The Deposition of the Heretical Pope.
The conference includes 15 speakers who will be giving a range of talks on the subject matter with titles such as “Conciliarism and the Deposition of a Pope Through the Prism of Gallicanism,” "The Downfall of the Pope: Between Renunciation and Deposition," and "The Deposition of John XXII and Benedict XIII at Constance, 1415–1417." 

Functional coherence

I appreciate Jonathan McLatchie's ministry Apologetics Academy including his interviews with various guests on various topics. Starting around the 35 minute mark, Doug Axe explains what he thinks is a limitation with Michael Behe's irreducible complexity and instead argues for what Axe terms functional coherence:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fantastic improbability

From Doug Axe:

There's this general confusion over what probabilities mean, and that if...something has a probability and it's not zero, then that means it's not impossible.

Some people want to say, if the probability is not zero, then that means it can happen. What it really means is that if there are enough opportunities for a very small probability to become a large probability, then it can happen.

So, if something is one in a million, but you have a million shots at it, then it becomes probable. If something is one in a trillion, you're going to need a trillion shots at it for it to become probable. A million won't be enough; it's still vastly improbable.

If you push that number far enough, you reach an improbability that is so extreme that there is no way for this physical universe to give you the number of opportunities that would raise that extraordinary small probability to something that can happen, that's like, 50-50 or better.

It turns out that in these sorts of problems where you have to arrange lots of thing and get lots of things right, the improbability of each step multiples and you can get just extraordinary improbability.

So, I use the term "fantastic improbability" to refer to this sort of boundary where it's now beyond the point where this physical universe could possible overcome the improbability. That, I call "physical impossibility," distinguishing it from mathematical impossibility...One in a google [sic] is the dividing line where I say, once it's that improbable, there is no way for any real process in this physical universe to overcome that kind of improbability. That's why I call it "physically impossible."

Genre of the Gospels

From Craig Blomberg (Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, 2nd ed., pp 121-2):

What, then, is encoded in the texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to help us know how to interpret them on the "macro-scale"? Are they unadorned works of history or biography? Are they extended myths? historical fiction? In short, how do we assess the genre or literary form of an entire "gospel"?

Close call

In assessing the problem of evil, one consideration is that there's nothing quite like the experience of deliverance from personal calamity or impending calamity. Situations where a person is at the end of his tether. He's run out of options. Threatened by circumstances that leave him in despair. Such hopeless, dire situations are what drive some people to the brink of suicide, or drive them over the brink. 

To feel cornered, to stare disaster in the face, only to be delivered at the last minute, is an inexpressible relief for those who experience it. In the words of the black Gospel song: "My soul look back and wonder how I got over. Had a mighty hard time coming on over. I've been falling and rising all these years. But you know my soul look back and wonder how I got over."

In the nature of the case, only a creature in a fallen world can have that experience. To escape one near miss time and again. But by the same token, if we always knew that another reprieve was just around the corner, we wouldn't feel threatened in the first place. There'd be no tension to alleviate. So deliverance can't become too predictable, too routine, something we take for granted. 

Music and morality

Many people, maybe most people, are music lovers. This raises questions about the morality of music. What about music that has an immoral message? Is it morally compromising to enjoy such music? Is it morally compromising to perform such music? 

To take a few examples, Frank Sinatra immortalized "Strangers in the Night," which extols the one-night stand. Jon Vickers once said Wagner composed Tristan and Isolde to rationalize his adulterous affairs–which raises questions about how Vickers could justify singing Tristan. Dido's Lament ("When I am laid in earth"), from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, glorifies suicide. In that respect it reflects the heathen Roman values of Virgil.

Examples could be multiplied, but that's sufficient to frame the issue.

i) A listener might enjoy the tune, but ignore the lyrics. 

ii) A listener might impute his own significance to the lyrics. Although original intent may often be normative when it comes to interpretation–although the creative process has a subliminal element, so that authors aren't necessarily aware of the full significance of what they write–that doesn't compel a reader or listener to share the author's outlook.

iii) However, it's harder to see how a performer can maintain that dichotomy. Whatever his mental reservations, if any, he's projecting the sense of the lyrics, and the lyrics have a sense that's independent of the performer. Linguistic meaning has an objective component.  

Likewise, in opera, the singer is an instrument of the story. By playing a role, he discharges the dramatic function of the character. 

That, though, would be different from singing in private, for your own enjoyment, 

iv) In some respects, opera is a paradoxical art form. For instance, opera singers often play romantic roles, yet many opera singers are chunky-built. They don't look the part of romantic leads. 

Likewise, Tristan and Isolde is a love story, but due to Wagner's dense orchestration, it requires voices that excel in stamina and power rather than a seductive timbre. There are aspects of opera that sabotage the goal, necessitating a greater than ordinary willing suspension of disbelief. And that makes it easier to mentally detach the message from the messenger. 

v) Studio recordings are different. You don't see the singer–if it's an audio recording rather than a music video. Moreover, lighter, more sensuous voices can sing heavier parts in studio recordings and music videos than they could risk in the opera house. 

vi) Occasionally, there are opera singers who look the part and/or sound the part. But that's a rare package. That's more common in pop vocalism, there the physical demands are less strenuous.   

vii) In addition, sex appeal is contingent on the sexual orientation of the listener or viewer. For instance, Franco Correlli has sex appeal for female opera buffs, but not for straight males. Likewise, Kiri Te Kanawa has sex appeal for male opera buffs, but not for women. 

viii) That said, there are listeners and viewers who strongly identify with the sentiments of immoral music. They revel in the message.


Long ago in a galaxy far away was a religious sect known as the Lather sect. According to the Lather sect, humanoids were hellbound unless they received ritual cleansing. To avoid damnation, you had to stand still while a priest blew soap bubbles at you. 

For this to be a valid sacrament, certain conditions had to be met. The priest had to be in unbroken sudsession from St. Bubbles, founder of the sect. The priest had to face East when blowing bubbles. That had unfortunate consequences on a windy day, when not a single bubble might make contact with the penitent. 

Finally, the priest had to use a bubble blower that was a facsimile of the One True Bubble Blower. According to Lather legend, the One True Bubble Blower fell from heaven. The sect originated when St. Bubbles discovered the Holy Bubble Blower. 

Unfortunately, this led to the Great Schism, for there were two antique bubble blowers, both vying for the coveted distinction to be the original, heaven-sent bubble blower. So the Lathers split into two competing sects, anathematizing each other. This meant members of one rival sect received invalid ritual cleansing, resulting in their eternal perdition. Sadly, no one knew for sure which sect had the better claim to be in possession of the authentic bubble blower.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Common grace and paradox

I recently linked toDavid Engelsma's review of a new biography about Gordon Clark:

While I agree with some of what Engelsma says, there are times when his bias clouds his judgment:

i) The CRC has been on the skids for decades, as has Calvin College and Seminary. 

However, at the time of the Clark Controversy, I believe Louis Berkhof was the nemesis of Herman Hoeksema. It would be absurd to suggest that Berkhof doesn't represent authentic Reformed theology. Moreover, the CRC continued to have orthodox representation in later figures like Anthony Hoekema. 

ii) In addition, the OPC, which was founded over 80 years ago, hasn't followed the downward spiral of the CRC. To the contrary, it's maintained an impressive degree of theological stability and conservativism despite changing hands so often.

iii) Although liberals in the OT department at Westminster Seminary were in danger of adulterating the orthodox stance of the seminary, that trend was recently reversed under new administration, and the reversal enjoyed significant support from other departments of the seminary. So Engelsma's predictive trajectory is unreliable. 

iv) Perhaps owing to his age, Engelsma's attack on theological paradox is rather dated. If you're going to attack the principle of theological paradox, a better foil would be the more recent and rigorous formulations by James Anderson. 

I myself don't find Christian theology paradoxical, although it inevitably has dimensions that exceed human comprehension. 

v) Engelsma seems to be oblivious to the fact that Clark's theology became increasingly eccentric in his later years. Flirtations with idealism and occasionalism. Dubious formulations of the Trinity and the hypostatic union. A Sandemanian definition of saving faith. Necessitarianism regarding the creation of the world. 

Moreover, some of these aberrations represent the outworking of his disdain for sense knowledge. 

vi) He fails to mention that Norman Shepherd's views got him fired from Westminster. 

vii) He doesn't bother to explain how the Federal Vision is the logical outworking of theological paradox and/or common grace. 

Invariably, indeed necessarily, the truth being, in fact, rigorously logical, the doctrine of universal, ineffectual grace in the “paradox” drives out the doctrine of particular, sovereign grace.

i) Common grace is not ineffectual. Rather, it serves the purpose for which God intended it.

ii) Common grace is something of a catch-all category, so assessing the claim depends on which elements are included in the package. I prefer the position of Paul Helm and William Young to John Murray in this respect. 

iii) Since, moreover, it denotes something different from saving grace, it's misleading and confusing to use the same designation ("grace") for both. But, unfortunately, that's the standard label.  

Under the influence of Westminster Seminary, the OPC has approved a covenant theology that expressly denies all the doctrines of grace of the Westminster Standards, including justification by faith alone, with special reference to the children of believers.

I'd like to see documentation for that sweeping allegation. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How Vatican II Changed the Roman Catholic Church

"The core of what Roman Catholicism stands for has never changed". Probably one of the main challenges is going to be The battle over words. Rome uses basic Protestant language, and tries to re-define it, in its own way.

See also:

Ministering to Hispanics in the Church

Engelsma reviews Clark bio

This is a biased review, but worth reading all the same:

Miracles and risk assessment

Larry Shapiro is a secular philosopher who's been attacking miracles in different venues. He published a book on the subject. And he recently debated Mike Licona. In that debate he recycled an illustration he uses in this article:

It's a good illustration of risk assessment. There can be multiple factors to balance. How likely is this to happen? How harmful if it did happen? How likely is misdiagnosis? How successful is the treatment? How harmful is the treatment? Problem is, his example is a poor analogy for what he's attempting to illustrate. 

Even granting the tremendous reliability of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, the case for accepting their account is very weak. How many people return from the dead? It must be very low, far less than the number of people who have the serious disease in our analogy. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that God resurrects one in a billion people. This means that even if the witnesses to the resurrection were incredibly reliable (perhaps they misidentify non-miraculous events as miraculous only one in a million times), the chance that they were correct about Jesus’ resurrection would be only one in a thousand. To summarize, the extreme rarity of divine interventions works against the rationality of believing in them…However, my argument does not show that belief in miracles is never rational. Just as receiving numerous positive test results for a disease would raise the probability that you really are sick, numerous independent witnesses testifying to the same miracle would increase the probability that it really occurred. Alas, we lack numerous independent accounts in the case of biblical miracles. Therefore, though miracles might be possible, belief in them is irrational.

Several problems:

i) He's staking out the position that even if an event really happened, and even if we have evidence that it really happened, we should refuse to believe it. But when skepticism pohibits us from believing what's true, even when we have evidence, then isn't skepticism irrational?

ii) Dead people naturally stay dead. By his own admission, the Resurrection takes that for granted. The Resurrection is predicated on the introduction of a factor that's contrary to the ordinary course of nature:

Events like these require divine intervention because, presumably, without such intervention the natural laws according to which the universe marches would have prevented them from happening…That’s why, if Jesus really did return to life, something must have intervened to block the otherwise inevitable march of natural laws.

But in that event, Shapiro's standard of comparison is disanalogous and irrelevant. By his own admission, Shapiro's comparison is a category mistake by resorting to a frame of reference that isn't parallel to the case of miracles. It's odd that having framed the issue correctly, he proceeds to draw a conclusion that disregards his framework. His entire analysis is vitiated by that systematic equivocation. His lack of consistency is puzzling. 

iii) We to have multiple attestation for some dominical miracles. In addition, there's extensive evidence for modern miracles.

iv) In addition, a miracle isn't like a randomly occurring, randomly distributed event. Rather, a miracle is an intentional action by a personal agent. 

Salamanders and miracles

Let’s suppose that I’m lecturing somewhere and some terrorists interrupt the event, come up on stage, and behead me for saying Muhammad was a false prophet. While the commotion was occurring, some audience members dial 911. When sirens announce the approaching police, the terrorists flee. An hour later, while audience members are being interviewed by police and members of the media outside of the auditorium in which my headless corpse still lies, a strange thing occurs. A moment later, I walk out of the auditorium with head attached and in perfect health! Everyone is stunned and ask what has happened, to which I answer that God has sent me back to tell everyone the Christian message is true. I then begin calling out the names of a few audience members, one by one, and tell each that, while I was in heaven, I spoke with one of their family members who had died and who has sent a message to them. I then provide the names of those family members and messages, messages that contain accurate information I could not have known otherwise. A physician then approaches me and checks my vitals. 
There is no question that such an event would be a miracle and would probably require an act of God. But the physician has no access to God using the methods of her discipline. So, if we were to follow Bart’s principle, the physician could not affirm that I was alive, since only theologians have access to God! You can see how this approach fails, since the physician could certainly affirm that I was alive, but could not affirm that God was the cause of my miraculous return to life. In a similar manner, historians can look at the data, formulate hypotheses which they then weigh using criteria of inference to the best explanation to see which best explains the data. If the Resurrection Hypothesis does a better job of fulfilling those criteria than competing hypotheses, the historian can affirm that Jesus rose from the dead, while being unable to affirm that God was the cause of Jesus’s miraculous return to life (although he could suggest God is the best candidate for the cause). So, one is free to suggest there is not enough evidence to confirm that Jesus rose from the dead or that there is a better hypothesis than one stating that he rose. But, in principle, there is no good reason for why historians cannot investigate a miracle claim.

I discussed Licona's example once before, so I don't wish to belabor the point:

However, I would like to comment on how Larry Shapiro responded in his debate with Licona. One of Shapiro's naturalistic explanations is that if this really happened, it might mean Licona is a freak mutant or extraterrestrial with the natural ability to regenerate, like salamanders that can regrow a lost tail. But that's an example of special pleading:

i) The fact that lizards and salamanders can regenerate some organs or body parts is hardly analogous to instantaneous regeneration.

ii) Likewise, the fact that an organism can temporarily or even permanently survive without some organs or body parts is hardly analogous to decapitation. The brain is a vital organ. Not only a vital organ in its own right, but it directs the functions of other vital organs.

So Shapiro's response illustrates the irrational lengths to which an atheist will go to rule out miracles.  

Shades of faith

In Reformed soteriology, there are some clearcut groups of people. The primary distinction is between elect and reprobate. That's fixed. 

An overlapping distinction is between regenerate and unregenerate. It's overlapping because election and regeneration go back to God's timeless choice, whereas regeneration occurs in time. The elect can be regenerated at different stages of life. Unlike election and reprobation, regeneration is fluid in that respect. 

There are other related, generally clearcut distinctions. You have a group of people who live and die outside the pale of the Gospel. You have another group who are devoted to atheism. Likewise, you have a group who consciously repudiate the Christian faith.

There is, though, an in-between group, or type of group. For instance:

Since Christian faith is primarily trust rather than intellectual mastery, even a young child can give a credible profession. In judging what is credible leaders must take into account the capacities of the one who is expressing faith. 
For very young children, the children’s response to their parents is the primary avenue for expressing their relation to God. Parents represent God to their children, by virtue of their authority, their responsibilities, and their role as a channel for God’s blessings. Children first learn what God is like primarily through their parents’ love and discipline. The Fatherhood of God is represented through a good human father. God’s forgiveness of sins is represented primarily through the parents’ forgiveness and patience towards their children.

Although Poythress is referring to young children, the principle raises questions about analogous situations. If a parent, especially a Christian parent, can be a temporary stand-in for God or Christ, and if trusting a parent is implicit faith or vicarious faith, then can some adults, who are not professing Christians, be saved indirectly because a Christian friend or family member subliminally represents Christ to them and for them? 

They are the closest that some people come to Jesus. Insofar as that they love, trust, and admire their Christian friend or family member, and do so in part for his Christian virtues and graces, are they believing in Jesus via a Christian representative? Does he stand for Christ in their affections, even if they don't consciously make that connection? 

There are certain passages where believing in or acting on behalf of a Christian representative is equivalent to believing in or acting for Jesus:

The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Mt 25:40). 
The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me (Lk 10:16). 
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me (Jn 13:20).

Unlike inclusivism, which cuts the nerve of evangelism, this still depends on a Christian witness and Christian presence. 

Some people, due to social conditioning, have a tremendous impediment to Christian faith. An impediment they never entirely overcome. Are there situations where a Christian friend or relative forms the bridge? What I've discussed is too speculative to furnish a firm answer. It may be enough to give reason for hope, but not enough for confidence. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

If Christianity was proven false, would you believe?

There's a video clip floating around the internet in which Frank Turek is asked whether he'd continue to be a Christian if the Christian faith was proven false. Here's one link:

i) Up to a point, Turek gives a good answer. For instance, you have theological liberals who say their "Christian faith" is independent of past or future events. Their faith doesn't hinge on the Resurrection, or physical return of Christ, or historicity of the Exodus, or call of Abraham, or Noah's flood, or special creation of Adam and Eve. They treat all these accounts as parables. 

Over against that dehistoricized, hallowed out Christianity, it is important to say, in a qualified sense (see below), that in principle, Christianity is falsifiable. 

ii) Ironically, there are some evangelical apologists whose position differs from the theological liberals as a matter of degree rather than kind. They stake everything on the Resurrection. They are prepared to consign other biblical accounts to the status of fiction so long as they have the Resurrection.

iii) There's a certain paradox about evidence-based beliefs. On the one hand, if a professing Christian lacks articulate reasons to defend his faith, then when he encounters prima facie evidence that disproves one or more Christian essentials, he may be unable to put up an effective resistance to the challenge. That leaves his faith very fragile. An accident waiting to happen. In that regard, faith without evidence is unstable. 

iv)  On the other hand, evidence-based beliefs can be unstable. If the ground shifts from under what he took to be solid evidence for his faith, then that may rock his faith. If his faith is only as good as the state of the evidence, and someone challenges the evidential foundation, or marshals prima facie evidence to the contrary, then his faith may be shaken. So that would seem to make Christian faith inherently provisional. 

What if someone raises an impressive sounding objection to which he has no good answer? There may be good answers, but if he doesn't know enough to know where to find them, where does that leave him? Therein lies value in the witness of the Spirit:

v) In this respect it's important to distinguish between actual evidence and prima facie evidence. It would certainly be foolish to abandon your faith just because you encounter some challenging issues. And this isn't confined to Christian philosophy. Suppose I can't prove that I'm not trapped in the Matrix. Is that a reason for me to seriously doubt the external world? 

vi) It can be misleading to quote Paul's statement about how our faith is vain unless Jesus rose from the dead. Paul isn't suggesting that the Resurrection is up for grabs. Just the opposite: Paul is appealing to the fact of the Resurrection as an unquestionable standard of comparison: Given the Resurrection, if the belief or practice of Corinthians Christians is at odds with the truth of the Resurrection, then it's incumbent on them to bring their beliefs or behavior in line with the Resurrection. Paul's hypothetical is an argument ad impossibile. 

vii) In addition, we can say that Christianity is falsifiable, considered in isolation. If the tomb wasn't empty on the first Easter, and you keep the rest of your belief structure intact, then you can say that falsifies Christianity. However, that artificially compartmentalizes one truth from other truths.

The question is deceptively simple. Suppose we recast it in terms of theism generally rather than Christianity in particular. If theism is proven false, would you continue to believe it? The problem is that such a question assumes that truth is independent of God's existence. But what if truth is dependent on God's existence? Then at least some version of theism would have to be true for anything else to be true. And is there a version of theism with better evidential credentials than Christianity?

viii) This goes to the question: what is truth? It goes to the question of truth-conditions and truthmakers. There are different theories of truth.

Suppose we define truth as a true proposition. But that pushes the question back a step. What are propositions? In what, if anything, do they inhere? Are propositions mental entities? Abstract objects? A physicalist rejects abstract objects. 

Or suppose we define truth as a property of beliefs: a true belief. But that's a mental state. And there are problems with that definition according to the standard secular paradigm. If that's confined to human mental states, what's the standard of comparison? What makes one person's mental state true and another false? 

And here's another problem: if truth is a relation between belief and a corresponding truthmaker, there are no truths unless there are minds to think them. But according to naturalistic evolution, for the first 13+ billion years of the universe, there were no minds, no brains of sufficient complexity to entertain true beliefs. But in that event, it wasn't true, at the time, that flora antedate fauna, since nothing back then was capable of entertaining that belief. 

This reflects the superficiality of evidentialism. It's useful up to a point, but it needs to be undergirded by transcendental theism.

Easter Resources 2017

Each year, I post a collection of Easter resources. Here are the previous years' posts:


And here are some representative examples of the issues we've addressed:

Independent, Converging Lines Of Evidence For Jesus' Resurrection
Resurrection Evidence Outside The New Testament
Evidence For The Shroud Of Turin
The 1982 Carbon Dating Of The Shroud Of Turin
The Authorship Of Matthew
The Authorship Of Mark
The Authorship Of Luke And Acts
The Authorship Of John
The Authorship Of The Pauline Letters (see the comments section)
Evidence For The Empty Tomb
Why It's Significant That The Earliest Sources Don't Narrate The Resurrection Appearance To James
Evidence That Saul Of Tarsus Saw Jesus Risen From The Dead
The Spiritual Body Of 1 Corinthians 15
Why Didn't The Risen Jesus Appear To More And Different People?
Matthew 27:52-3
How The Apostles Died
Miracles In The Modern World
Reviews Of Debates On Jesus' Resurrection

We've written some e-books, which are linked on the sidebar on the right side of the screen, and they address some Easter issues.

After the 2016 post on Easter resources linked above, Steve Hays wrote some responses to Bart Ehrman, here, here, and here, which address the resurrection and other topics. And here and here are some posts Steve wrote in response to Ehrman concerning the harmonization of the crucifixion accounts. Steve also addressed how skeptics miscalculate the probability of the resurrection. And here's a response he wrote to Richard Carrier on the argument that the resurrection witnesses wouldn't have died for a lie. A lot of issues came up in the thread, including whether the resurrection witnesses died for a noble lie and whether they had an opportunity to recant before being executed. I put together a collection of links to our material on Matthew's authorship of the first gospel. Steve wrote about the hypothesis that Jesus had a twin brother who was mistakenly thought to be Jesus risen from the dead. And here's another post he wrote on the subject. He also discussed whether the resurrection is extraordinary in the way critics often suggest. And he wrote about whether the resurrection and other miracles are antecedently improbable. I linked a post I wrote on Facebook about how the Suffering Servant prophecy is evidence for Christianity. Steve wrote about animals and the afterlife. And here's something I wrote about Jesus' fulfillment of Psalm 22. I also reviewed a debate between Sean McDowell and Ken Humphreys on the martyrdom of the apostles. Steve wrote about Psalm 16:10 and Jesus' resurrection. He later wrote about how John Goldingay became more appreciative of the resurrection of the body through watching the suffering of his wife. Steve also addressed the implications Gordon Clark's views have for the resurrection. And he linked an article on the relationship between the historicity of Adam and the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. He also linked an article by Edwin Yamauchi about whether the early Christians' belief in Jesus' resurrection was rooted in myth, hallucination, or history. And he discussed what Paul says about the afterlife in 1 Thessalonians 4 and how a Christian view of the afterlife contrasts with non-Christian views. In another post, he addressed the claim that any naturalistic explanation for the evidence pertaining to Jesus' resurrection is preferable to a supernatural explanation. And here's a post Steve wrote about skeptical attempts to dismiss the resurrection appearances as hallucinations and their appeal to Marian apparitions. He also discussed Andy Stanley's views on Jesus' resurrection and the Bible. After that, he addressed objections to a Christian view of the final state. Here's something he wrote in response to Dale Allison on the continuity between the body that dies and the one that rises. He also replied to George Mavrodes on the probability of Jesus' resurrection. In another post, he discussed how Biblical descriptions of the afterlife could be reconciled with incorporeal existence. He also responded to some misgivings Peter Enns expressed about the resurrection of Christ. And he addressed some of the principles involved in judging the consistency of the resurrection accounts. I wrote a series of posts on how the gospels compare to other ancient biographies. Steve wrote about Muhammad's alleged splitting of the moon and how it compares to Christian miracles, such as the darkness at the crucifixion. He also wrote about how God relates to us in the events commemorated at Eastertime. I wrote about how the fulfillment of Isaiah's Suffering Servant passage and other Old Testament prophecies provides modern evidence for Jesus' deity. I also updated my post on the 1982 carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin. Steve reviewed a debate on the resurrection between Mike Licona and Matt Dillahunty here and here. He also contrasted Biblical miracles, like the resurrection of Christ, to miracles of a less purposeful nature.


I've read or seen three debates in which Mike Licona uses the same illustration: if the audience witnessed him beheaded on stage, then ten minutes later he emerges outside restored to life, and says that while he was in heaven God revealed to him a private conversation with an audience member, to which only the audience member would be privy, would an atheist admit that this was a miracle? 

He's using this hypothetical as a wedge tactic to test how fantastically devoted an atheist is to rejecting miraculous explanations. Is there absolutely nothing they'd accept as evidence for a miracle? However, I don't think this is a good illustration to prove his point:

1. Atheists often try to lampoon miracles by concocting preposterous hypotheticals, then ask how you'd respond if your best friend told you he saw that. But biblical miracles aren't equivalent to weird events: biblical miracles are purposeful. They often have a symbolic function.

2. Given what we know about professional magicians (e.g. sawing a lady in half), it would be more reasonable to conclude that the apparent beheading was illusory rather than miraculous.

3. In addition, that's not analogous to biblical miracles like the Resurrection. Appearing to saw a lady in half are elaborately staged, with trick boxes and trap doors, &c. But biblical miracles like the Resurrection did not and could not be staged like that. It wasn't a controlled setting with elaborate preparations and special equipment.

4. In addition, Jesus reportedly appeared to many people at different times, locations, angles, and lighting conditions. 

5. In fairness, Licona added a veridical element regarding supernatural or paranormal knowledge about a private conversation. However, that's logically independent of the beheading hypothetical. 

6. That said, in both debates, Licona's atheist opponent took the position that it's more plausible, or at least as plausible, to conclude that recovering from decapitation is naturally possible than to concede a miracle. Yet atheists routinely deny the possibility of miracles because they define a miracle as a violation of natural law, and they treat any alternative explanation as more plausible than breaking a nature law. Problem is that atheists try to have it both says:

i) A reported miracle didn't happen because that would break a natural law


ii) If it did happen, that means it was naturally possible after all. 

But that's a heads I win, tails you lose gimmick.